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‘The use of maxims, or sententious language, is appropriate in respect of age (time of life) to elders, and as to subjects, should be directed to those in which the speaker has experience; since for one who is not so far advanced in life to employ maxims is as unbecoming as story-telling (i. e. fables, legends, mythical stories), whilst to talk about things that one knows nothing of is a mark of folly and ignorance (or want of cultivation)’. On μυθολογεῖν Victorius says, “Fabellarum sane auditione delectantur pueri; non tamen ipsis fabulas fingere aut narrare congruit.” And this, because young people have as yet had little or no experience of life, and if they pronounce maxims and precepts at all, must do it of things of which they are ignorant: and this shews folly, as well as ignorance. So Quintilian, who supplies the reason for this precept: VIII 5. 8, ne passim (sententiae) et a quocunque dicantur. Magis enim decent eos in quibus est auctoritas, ut rei pondus etiam persona confirmet. Quis enim ferat puerum aut adolescentulum aut etiam ignobilem, si iudicat in dicendo et quodammodo praecipiat? “It has been said too they come most naturally from aged persons, because age may be supposed to have taught them experience. It must however be an experience suitable to their characters: an old general should not talk upon law, nor an old lawyer on war.” Harris, Philol. Inq. Works IV 186. The Justice in the ‘Seven Ages’ (As you like it [II 6. 156]), who is advanced in years, is full of wise saws and modern instances. ‘A sufficient indication (of the truth of what has just been said, viz. that it is only the simpleton, or the ignorant and uneducated, that pronounces maxims upon subjects of which he knows nothing), is the fact that rustics (clowns, boors) are especially given to maxim-coining, and ever ready to shew them off (exhibit them)’. This propensity to sententiousness, and the affectation of superior wisdom which it implies, characteristic of the ‘rustic’, has not escaped the observation of Shakespeare: whose numerous ‘clowns’ are all (I believe) addicted to this practice. Dogberry in Much ado about nothing—see in particular, Act III Sc. 5—the ‘fool’ in Lear I 4—‘Touchstone’ in As you like it, III 3 and ‘Costard’ in Love's labour's lost, throughout; are all cases in point. ἀγροῖκος, country-bred, rustic, boor, clown, implying awkwardness and the absence of all cultivation and refinement of language, manner, mind, is opposed to ἀστεῖος which represents the opposite, city life, and city breeding, the city being the seat of refinement, cultivation personal and intellectual, civilisation and fashion; as rusticus to urbanus, and Country with its associations, to Town and its belongings, in our dramatists and light literature of the two last centuries, the echo of which has not quite died away.
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